In my experience, very few individuals can answer this question with any clarity. Now one of the reasons is so many are living life at a survival level; they cannot make time for deeper reflection on their lives due to just attempting to get through the day.
Ironically, not doing so contributes to keeping them stuck in this mode of living. But living without intention leads to a frustrated and unfulfilling life. You can’t hit the target if you don’t know where you’re aiming.
You Need to Get Clear
Life is challenging, unfair, and confusing at times. Without clear motivation and direction, these trials will block you from achieving your goals. Some of those I have met can give an overarching reason such as, “I want to make an impact,” or, “I want to be the best at X.” Although these statements have some level of defined purpose, they are vague and will not sustain motivation when things get tough or define for others what your value you provide.
Numerous studies show having a clear purpose leads to an increased level of motivation and satisfaction. Furthermore, forward thinking companies that clearly define their value proposition to their employees, have workers who are twice as motivated and passionate about their work. In addition, they are as, or more, profitable than other businesses in their industry.
Specificity is Essential
Specificity is key to increasing your level of emotion and remaining focused. In my work with entrepreneurs, athletes, or anyone attempting to achieve anything significant, the daily realities of pursuing one’s vision can be draining. Moreover, they can pull you in a thousand directions at once leaving you running in circles. This results in becoming exhausted and discouraged.
Having a well-defined purpose and value proposition is essential to reaching your goals. Another factor is a concept defined as ego minimization. Research shows our brain will often shut down our body well before it reaches its maximum capacity. This is done in order to protect us from injury and death, which is not always a bad thing.
A Cause Greater Than Yourself
However, when our purpose for pursuing something is in the service of others or a cause greater than ourselves, we can override this limitation. We have all heard heroic stories of individuals who have performed miraculous feats on behalf of another. I remember an airline accident in Washington D.C. in the eighties in which a plane crashed into the Potomac River. The national media showed a scene in which a man jumped into the freezing water in the middle of winter to save others.
Perhaps, one of the more inspiring stories representing this phenomenon I read about was by a woman named, Jennifer Pharr Davis, who attempted to break the speed record for hiking the Appalachian Trail, which is a mountain range running from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine, which runs for 2,185 miles.
Overcoming Physical Limits Through Purpose
Davis had already broken the record for fastest time ever by a woman several years earlier. Now, she was attempting to break the overall record, which was held by ultra-endurance male athletes. Twelve days into the hike, Davis was ready to give up after suffering from diarrhea and shin splints for over four days straight despite having over 1,650 miles remaining.
She met her husband at one of the checkpoints in New Hampshire. Davis informed him of her intent to quit the hike. Davis’s husband had made sacrifices for years helping her prepare for the record breaking attempt. He told her this was a team effort, and he was not okay with her decision to quit.
In that instance, something shifted inside of her, and the attempt to break the record was not about her any longer. Here is Davis in her own words:
I just totally released from the record. I started hiking out of a greater faith. I wanted to honor my God, to get back to the reasons that got me hooked on hiking to begin with – a love for the wilderness, a love for my husband, and to use my gift. I remembered that I feel closest to God when I am hiking up and down the trail as a part of nature, when I am loving my husband, when I am relishing in my gift. All of a sudden, the hike was no longer about a record, it was no longer about me. The whole thing became an act of worship to something greater than myself.
Armed with a higher purpose, Davis went on to break the overall record by 26 hours and was named National Geographic Adventurer of the Year. This is an example of the motivating power of having a clear purpose: it can even supersede our physical limitations.
The Importance of Individual and Corporate Purpose
The pervasiveness of individuals absence of a clearly defined purpose for themselves also parallels many of the organizations they are a part of. Most companies lack a well-defined mission of the value they provide. Without this, both customers and staff alike are not certain of what the organizations real purpose is. Studies show the negative impact on motivation and performance for employees of companies that fail to provide clarity of the company’s purpose, as well as show how each member of the organization is a part of that mission.
Returning to the individual, so much of what we see today in our culture is messages of attempting to motivate people through external rewards, such as types of cars and homes, as well as fashion and status. Although these things can be temporarily stimulating, every bit of research shows intrinsic, or inner, rewards are much more motivating.
Purpose Can Take You Farther Than Passion
Purpose is what I refer to as passion with impact. Passion can be a great motivator. But as shown in the story of Jennifer Pharr Davis, Purpose will take you even farther. Start to dig deeper when it comes to examining why you do what you do. I continually ask my clients, “And why is that important,” until we get to the final reason for the ultimate purpose of what they are pursuing. Keep asking the next WHY until you get a clear picture of your purpose.
If you are a leader of a company, provide your employees with a clear value proposition for why you do what you do and the ways you are impacting your customers. The lowest ranked members of your organization should be able to articulate your purpose. Doing so will result in more motivated and fulfilled employees, as well as more satisfied customers. When it comes to defining purpose, the key is to be specific and unique about the value you provide.
Pursue Intrinsic Rewards to Achieve Fulfillment
To achieve the life you aspire to live, you need to have a clear understanding yourself about why you do what you do and carry it out with intention. Don’t allow yourself to be counted among the masses of individuals who are drifting through life without purpose or having fallen into the trap of chasing external rewards.
I challenge you today to define your purpose, live with intention, and bring true value to others. If you make the effort, your life will begin to be filled with passion, meaning, and real fulfillment. Studies also show this tends to lead to more profit as well. When your purpose is clean, the more money you make, which is just another resource, the bigger impact you will have in the world.
But don’t get the cart before the horse. Chasing materialism will not provide you with what you ultimately desire. I have worked with many financially successful individuals who were suicidally depressed or struggling with addictions as a result of their lives having no real sense of purpose.
The process of defining your purpose with clarity can be complex at times and require outside assistance. If this is the case, I would encourage you to obtain the assistance of someone like myself to attain this goal.
A life of passion and purpose awaits you. Your time is short. Don’t allow another day to go by dominated by meaningless or just surviving. You have unlimited potential. Even if you have achieved a level of success, more is possible. Having a well-defined purpose is key to constructing the reality you are capable of achieving. Take this step now, and I promise you will be forever grateful you did.
John Hawkins Jr., M.S., L.M.H.C.
John has helped thousands of clients overcome the hidden internal blocks which had kept them from achieving their maximum potential. Furthermore, he has assisted them in gaining clarity of their true life purpose, identifying their gifts and talents, and developing lives of greater meaning and significance.